Investors who woo troubled house owners

house1PETALING JAYA: The current oversupply of residential properties is hurting people who bought houses in the years before the glut became a phenomenon. This is particularly true of those who couldn’t really afford their properties in the first place.

Whether they bought the houses as a long term investment, as a home to live in or merely to flip for a quick buck, they are finding it increasingly difficult to hold on to them.

Last May, The Edge reported that some 6,225 residential properties were put up for auction in the first quarter of this year compared with 5,442 properties in the corresponding quarter of 2016.

The report quoted AuctionGuru.com executive director Gary Chia as saying the abundant supply and low rental yields for properties were the most likely reasons for the increased number of foreclosures.

Given the high prices of houses several years ago and the current stagnation of salaries and high cost of living, it’s not surprising that some have to struggle with their loans.

However, it seems that the situation presents a business opportunity for some people. They are offering, through websites created for the purpose, to buy properties from owners struggling with their housing loans.

They promise to sell the houses within one to three months. They say their services are directed at those seeking to raise funds quickly and are suitable to owners wanting to dispose of properties due to financial difficulties or because they were going through a divorce.

The websites typically advertise “attractive” terms such as a waiver of fees, including legal fees.

Lim Eng Chong
Lim Eng Chong

Henry Butcher Malaysia director Lim Eng Chong told FMT such sites appeared to be run by groups of investors targeting distressed property owners.

“They offer a chance for the owners to make a quick sale in order to settle their outstanding loans,” he said.

“There is money to be made. These groups will buy properties at below market prices and make the difference when they sell at full market value.”

Lim said the services offered did sound attractive to house owners in a tight spot, but he advised them to “check around” to establish the market values of their properties so that they could decide whether the investors were offering fair prices.

He said owners should be careful when signing documents to ensure they got what they were promised after the outstanding loans had been settled.

“Whatever it is, owners should avoid dealing with unlicensed agents as they are not trained in the proper manner and may not follow proper procedures.”

He said there had been many reported cases of unlicensed agents running away after collecting deposits from buyers and of owners being cheated by such agents.

Help from banks

However, people don’t usually go from being a few months behind their bills to looking for websites offering to buy houses directly.

Usually, said Lim, banks would try to help borrowers restructure their loans to avoid foreclosures.

“During this period, if a borrower makes known that he would consider selling off his property to settle his loan, the bank may help by recommending agents who would help him find a buyer.”

One property agent who declined to be named told FMT that she often got calls from bank officers telling her of properties that were set to be foreclosed.

“I would get in touch with the owners and try to help them sell off their houses at prices that are higher than the value of their loans.”

Commenting on this, Lim said it was possible for an agent to sell a property at a better price than an auction could fetch.

He said a property on auction could fetch a price above the market value if there were many keen bidders. But he added that this was not usually the case.

“Properties are typically put up for auction at full market value during the first auction and the reserve price will be reduced by 10% at each subsequent auction. Quite often, properties get sold after the third auction.”

Lim noted, however, that compared with the period between 2006 and 2010 when banks were struggling with a high number of Non-Performing Loans (NPL), the number of properties being put up for auction today were much fewer.

“The NPL situation is currently under control but could deteriorate if the country’s economic growth slows further and companies close down and staff retrenchments increase. That will result in more properties being foreclosed and being put up for auction.”

Lim said that although auctioned properties could usually be purchased at below market price, potential buyers needed to take a few factors into consideration.

For one, there is a certain stigma attached to a property on auction because it might mean that the owner had not done well financially.

“Secondly, potential bidders are not able to view the inside of the property and this poses a risk. The property may not be in a good condition and more money may have to be spent on putting it back to a liveable condition.”

Lim also said that foreclosed properties were auctioned off without vacant possession, meaning the buyer of such a house might have to spend time and money to evict occupants and might have to deal with the heartache caused by forcing people out of their home.

He said there might also be hidden costs, such as outstanding maintenance fees, quit rent, assessment rates and utility bills.

“Those interested in bidding should check through the Proclamation and Conditions of Sale to find out what extra costs they may have to bear,” he said.